SPECIFICATION Modification from previous, in red italics
- Body: Swamp Ash – 2 piece, 1.74Kg
- Body Shape: Vintage Stratocaster, by guitarandbassbuild.co.uk
- Body Finish: Crimson Guitar Finishing Oil
- Neck: Fender Classic 70’s maple neck with large headstock
- Number of Frets: 21
- Fret Size: Fender “Vintage style”
- Position Inlays: Black dot
- Fretboard Radius: 7.25″
- Fretboard: Maple
- Neck Material: 1 piece maple
- Neck Finish: Gloss urethane finish
- Nut Width: 1.650” (42 mm)
- Scale Length: 25.5″ (64.8 cm)
- Neck Relief: 0.012″ (0.254mm)
- Neck Shim: StewMac 0.25° one-piece, full pocket, maple shim
- Strings – D’Addario, Nickel Wound – EXL140 – .010 .013 .017 .030 .042 .052
- String Action at 17th Fret: Treble Side – 4/64″ (1.6mm), Bass side – 5/64″ (1.9mm)
- Neck Plate: Genuine Fender “F’ – 4 Bolt, Chrome Neckplate
- Pickup Configuration: S/S/S
- Body Shielding: Heavy grade, copper sheet, with conductive adhesive backing
- Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan SSL-5 Custom Staggered, 12.9K
- Middle Pickup: Fender Custom Shop, Custom ’69 (Abigail Ybarra – “AY”), 5.74K
- Neck Pickup: Fender Custom Shop, Custom ’69 (Abigail Ybarra – “AY”), 5.33K
- Pickup Switching: Standard Stratocaster, 5-Position Blade – Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Bridge and Middle pickup, Position 3. Middle pickup, Position 4. Middle and Neck pickup, Position 5. Neck pickup.
- Controls: Master Volume, “Bridge Tone Modification” – Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Middle and Bridge Pickup).
- Jack Socket: Switchcraft Mono socket
- Pots: 3 x CTS TVT (“True Vintage Taper”) 250k
- Tone Capacitor: Luxe 0.05mf “Orange Dime” reproduction
- Wiring: Cloth covered, 22 gauge
- Hardware: Nickel/Chrome
- Tuners: Genuine Fender 70’s, “F” style Nickel Tuners with Logo
- Bridge: Callaham Vintage Stratocaster Style Tremolo with enhanced Vintage Block
- Jack Plate: Fender Genuine Part – Chrome
- String Nut: Bone
- Switch Tip: Aged White, Fender “Pure Vintage”
- Tremolo Arm/Handle: Callaham ’64 Virtual Pop-In arm (6″ – Standard length)
- Scratchplate: Genuine Fender – Black, 3-ply (BWB) – Aluminium Shielded
- Pickup Covers: Aged White, Fender “Pure Vintage”
- Rear Cover: Aged White, Fender “Pure Vintage” (but not fitted)
- Strap Buttons: Genuine Fender Vintage style, Nickel, with brown, recycled leather washers
- Guitar Strap – Souldier, Custom Series – “Greenwich” Yellow/Black – Recycled seatbelt with Vintage fabric – Black leather ends – Silver hardware
- Fender, Pro Series Hardcase – Tweed
The Ash Strat was my first ever build, and the first Stratocaster I could call my own. I put the original together, last year, with the rough intent to build something which sounded reminiscent of David Gilmour’s famous Black Strat. Basically – that’s the sound I hear in my head whenever I think of the classic “Strat sound”. It’s a great tone to play around with Blues phrasings, and really responds to expression and “digging in”.
Since the guitar was my first build, I bought in a pre-wired plate, which also carried a 9-way switching modification. The hand wound pickups sounded great, and the switching opened up a whole load of tonal possibilities – but as I began to get involved with building my “Black Strat” earlier this year, I found I was also beginning to mentally put together an alternative, improved specification for the Ash Strat. I needed a single Fender Custom Shop CS’69 pickup for the Black Strat, middle position. I actually found a full set of Abigail Ybarra CS-69’s for sale, and that left me two spare CS-69’s I could use with the Ash.
My Black Strat project tried to closely follow Gilmour’s exact pickup specifications, but a common approximate – used by many previous builders – is to use two CS-69’s in the neck and middle position, with a Seymour Duncan SSL-5 at the bridge. (To be honest – it’s a much more cost-effective solution). The option to upgrade the Ash Strat also came at a time when I was becoming much more confident with putting together the electrical side of my builds. It became clear that I could put together a whole new scratchplate assembly – complete with upgraded wiring, pots and switches, and then just simply swap the plates around. At least – it seemed that simple.
Whilst I’ve had the chance now to put together a few different specifications, and to play them in different styles and setups – I’ve noticed that I really do prefer a, vintage style, 7.25″ radius neck. There’s just something about the way my fingers fall. The original neck on the Ash Strat was a rather generic, reproduction, nameless, big old flat 12″ radius job. But it had the necessary large headstock, an all maple neck – and was badged up as a Fender, “late 60’s / early 70’s” model. Since the new pickups would also be right there – period-wise – I wanted to keep the 60’s/70’s “transitional” look, but with a 7.25″ radius. Ideally – I was looking for a real Fender neck. The challenge was to find something which exactly matched my requirements, at a reasonable cost.
In the end – I managed to track down a Fender, “Classic series, 70’s style, large headstock” neck, which ticked all the boxes, for under £200. I needed to change the neck fitting from a 3-bolt to a 4-bolt, but a spot of filling, and then re-drilling accomplished the task relatively easily. If I’m picky – I really would have liked a nitro finished neck with 22 frets – but these are only minor niggles. The new neck has all the Fender quality that the original, (fake), lacked. It’s always my aim to build instruments of the highest quality I can manage, for the money. The amount of time and money spent nitro-finishing and levelling a cheap neck just wasn’t worth it – when I could get a good deal for Fender quality, right out of the box.
The new neck also gave me a chance to fit some 70’s style Fender “F” tuners – and firm up the 60’s/70’s look of the overall instrument. Something I could also address with the addition of some Fender Pure Vintage pickup covers and controls, on the scratchplate refit.
So, my upgrade set out with the intent of improving on some of the, slightly “iffy”, aspects of my original build. Aspects I was once entirely happy with – but also happy to improve upon, once the opportunity presented. Since the upgrades meant an entire new neck and scratchplate assembly – most of the original build was to be replaced – with only the body remaining unchanged in any way. I even un-stopped the tremolo, and floated the bridge properly. Since it was a first build – I’d avoided electrical and tremolo issues entirely. The upgrade gave me a chance to bring the Ash Strat up to its’ full potential, and to put into practice much of the stuff I’d learned on other projects.
And the results are spectacular. It’s amazing how you can feel entirely comfortable with an instrument, only to change it and discover it’s even better. A small shim adjustment in the neck enabled me to make the action so slick, that the guitar really is a delight to play, and the Fender finish on the neck means I don’t have the odd, annoying, string choke on bends – even with this low an action. The pickups sound just like they should – (or just like they should in my head, anyway). It’s that classic guitar sound that was so prevalent in my teenage years. They sound incredible with effects pedals, (and my hand wired Fender Blues Junior amp just loves pedals). In neck and middle positions, it’s easy to dial in so many classic sounds…
…and then the Seymour Duncan bridge pickup kicks in. This thing has a huge sound. In fact – I’ve had to drop it way down, away from the strings. Partly to match the output of the CS-69’s – but also to make it easier for me to control and play. One downside of a high output pickup is that careless finger work means lots of mess. This thing really highlights a players weak points, (and I have plenty). That said – it’s a good thing to get to grips with, and a good mirror to help focus on some defects in my playing style. Then again – there’s nothing like turning the volume up sometimes, and just letting the SSL-5 howl…
The bridge tone modification is useful in taking out a bit of the high end attack on the bridge pickup – but it can be a bit difficult sharing the cantrol with the middle pickup also. Since the two have vastly different outputs – I find that the levels drop out uncomfortably on some pickup changes. It’s something to see how I deal with it over time. If I can’t get along with it – I only have to unsolder one little jumper wire.